Cool Spaces

Written by Rosalind Fournier

Photography by Edward Badham

Yann Cowart, vice president of GMC Sports, a division of the architecture and engineering firm Goodwyn Mills and Cawood, Inc., knows it doesn’t take much creativity to create a functional, indoor sports complex. But when tasked by the City of Hoover with designing the Finley Center—the new, 154,000-square-foot, flex-use facility at the Hoover Met Complex—he and his team wanted to give the client more than function. They wanted to create a space full of energy, excitement and light.

“A lot of projects like these are very utilitarian,” Cowart says. “They can just be basic warehouses, if they’re oriented towards just providing an open space for court play. So we were very conscious about trying to make the facility very dynamic and energetic. We didn’t just create a box. We tried to make the architecture reflect the energy of what was going on inside and make it exciting and youthful.”

With ample court space for volleyball, basketball and other sports, the Finley Center is not only the perfect indoor addition to the popular outdoor complex—which includes the Hoover Met Stadium, soccer fields, tennis courts and an RV park—but is designed to host major exhibits, banquets, and trade shows as well.

“It’s a relatively new concept but one that’s been tried and tested out well in other locales,” Cowart says, noting that GMC visited comparable facilities—including the Champions Center at LakePoint Sporting Community in Emerson, Ga., Rocky Top Sports World in Gatlinburg, Tenn., and even the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando—to get ideas and see what would work best here.

For starters, it took a lot just to stand out among the existing facilities at the Hoover Met Complex, so instead of competing, GMC sought to complement what is already there. While natural light is often sparse in big indoor sports facilities, the designers made every effort to maximize it so that people inside the building would feel connected to sporting events outdoors and vice versa.

“These are high-volume spaces, and it’s hard to get a lot of light into them,” Cowart says. “We tried to open it up and get as much light into the body of the building as possible, so when you drive up you can see some of the activity going on inside. And when you’re inside, you feel like even though you’re playing an indoor sport you can see what’s going on outside. You have connectivity.”

The Finley Center’s food court stands out as a welcome meeting spot for people participating in events throughout the complex. With floor-to-ceiling windows, including both clear panes and KalWall translucent panes that help diffuse the light and reduce glare, visitors can see out to the baseball and soccer fields. Monitors placed here and throughout the building, including the gyms, can be used as scoreboards, show game play, or feature rotational advertisement.

Other design highlights include a giant bench in the lobby, named “The Nova” by Green Furniture Concept, the company that makes it. “As opposed to just a typical bench that’s straight and not very organic, we tried to come up with a natural product that wasn’t made of metal,” Cowart says. “That’s why we introduced the wood and also the serpentine curve of it. That gets back to to the idea of trying to put energy in everything we designed, to where it didn’t feel like it could be just anywhere. It felt like it was made for that space.

“You’re not necessarily spending a whole lot more money, if any, to be very conscious of what the ultimate environment’s going to be when you’re complete,” he adds.

Monty Jones, Jr., general manager of the Hoover Metropolitan Complex, says the public has responded enthusiastically to the new building. “People are loving the space,” he says. “You think initially of the Finley Center as strictly a sports mecca, but then the way they designed it, it’s made not to be just sports-centric. We’re able to do conventions, banquets, trade shows, and a lot of different things. So it doesn’t set us up to work with a cookie-cutter space—we’re able to expand the horizon on the type of things we’re able to host.” Jones adds that the flexibility and fluidity of the building has made his team’s job easier, too, with the ability to transform a basketball court into a trade-show space even while other sports are still going on.

He also points to the signage panels out front that can be changed out for different events, creating extra publicity for whatever’s happening at the complex and elevating the level of excitement around events. The default panels read simply HOOVER, but they can also be changed out with panels representing all the teams playing in the SEC baseball team, for instance, or just about anything else. “We can change it based upon the event, and it’s very economical to make those changes,” Jones says. “So that’s an additional marketing avenue we can utilize.”

Both Jones and Cowart note that the new building shows something as simple as an elevated walking/jogging track can be reinvented to improve upon user experience. “When I was there yesterday, there were 10 or 12 ladies using the elevated track, and that made me proud that they felt like it’s a facility for them as well,” Cowart says.

Jones points out that the track offers a great view of the action on the gym floor below. “If something’s going on,” he says, “you’re able to exercise but also be part of the action.” Additional plans include a climbing wall set to be installed in the center by the first quarter of next year. “It’s so many activities that can simultaneously be going on for the whole family.

“It’s amazing because the Finley Center is just one piece of the Hoover Met Complex,” Jones continues. “All in all, once the whole complex is fully complete, it’s going to be one of a kind here in the Southeast and able to rival anything that’s out there. If you can think of it, we’ll do our best to try and make it happen.”

 

BEHIND THE SCENES

Architecture/Engineering: Goodwin Mills and Cawood, Inc. (GMC)

Construction manager: Brasfield & Gorrie

Construction Services: Dunn Building Company, Rabren General Contractors, M.J. Harris, Inc., CS Beatty Construction, Diversified US.

Open since: June 16, 2017

Named for: Bob Finley, longtime head football coach at Hoover’s former Berry High School